For the second time in four years, the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University Wind Ensemble has reached the pinnacle national honor for a program of its size.
The group, which has about four dozen musicians who represent 25 different majors across a variety of academic disciplines, is one of seven ensembles selected by peer review to participate via recording in the Small Band Program showcase at the biennial convention of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA). The event will be on Feb. 18 at the University of Georgia and will culminate a busy week for conductor Justin Zanchuk.
On Monday (Feb. 13), the Wind Ensemble will perform at 7:30 p.m. in Escher Auditorium at Saint Ben’s in a campus preview of the music it will play four days later at the Midwinter Convention for the Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA). The MMEA performance will be at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. And, as soon as it ends, Zanchuk will get on a plane bound for Athens, Georgia, to represent the group at the CBDNA showcase.
“The significance of this, the fact that it’s the second time we’ve been so honored in a short period, speaks to the consistent work and commitment the students have put into this group,” said Zanchuk, an associate professor of music, now in his ninth year at CSB and SJU. “They give their all in the Wind Ensemble classroom and they’ve applied their lessons and they have a desire for a great experience in music. To have such a high level of performance, they’re often pushed to the brink of what they think they can’t do. Then, when they realize they can, it opens all new growth possibilities.”
CBNDA qualifications as a small band program include that a school’s total enrollment is much smaller than the flagship or major regional institutions within a state. They also often are private, faith-based liberal arts schools.
Playing as a team
While participation in the showcase is not a competition, that doesn’t mean the musicians – all of whom auditioned to make the wind ensemble, which is a for-credit class – don’t take pride in standing out.
“It feels like we’re a part of a team,” said Madison Kubik, a sophomore from Oakdale, Minnesota, who plays clarinet and likens the experience to what it’s like for her playing softball as an outfielder for Saint Ben’s. “We have the same ups and downs that you do in athletics and we’re all striving to achieve the same goal. When something like this happens, where you get recognized among the best in the country at what you do, the feeling is euphoric.”
Kubik, an accounting major, put the same preparation into her music that she did club softball to participate in both in college. She took up the clarinet as a sixth grader and later played in jazz band and show choir combo at North St. Paul High School. Currently, the wind ensemble practices for an hour and 20 minutes three times a week and, depending on private lessons and other commitments, individuals can spend more than 10 hours a week at their craft.
“It’s about pushing myself,” said Kubik, who receives a music scholarship to help pay for her education. “We want to achieve greatness and then strive for more. Getting this national exposure will help recruiting for what already is a very strong music program. A lot of credit goes to (Zanchuk). When it comes to music, he could be the best D-I coach out there.”
Recording from October 2021
The CBDNA showcase typically lags more than a year from when a band makes a recording to when it is exhibited at the national convention. In October 2021 at Escher Auditorium, the CSB and SJU wind ensemble cut a version of “Two-Lane Blacktop,” an homage to the open road and distant horizon that was composed by James David, a professor of music composition at Colorado State University. That recording is what the CBDNA audience will hear Feb. 18.
“It is really exciting to be recognized for the work we have put in, and it has paid off,” said Frank Doyle, a junior from Montgomery, Minnesota, who is majoring in exercise and health science but puts just as much effort into playing the trumpet. “(Zanchuk) pushes us to be our best both inside and outside the classroom and I think we are all grateful for that.”
Doyle took piano lessons as a child but became a trumpet player in fifth grade.
“My days are extremely busy with classes and labs but playing trumpet for me is a time when I can take a break from that and be a part of something bigger than myself in creating music,” Doyle said. “It’s a way to express emotions through a medium other than words, like an artist painting emotion through colors. We portray that through the music we make as a group, and I think the accolades we’ve gotten are extremely well-deserved. I believe this shows that CSB and SJU truly have one of the best programs around and we perform at a high level even though we aren't a big school.”
Latest of many distinctions
In 2017, the wind ensemble performed “Traveler,” a composition by David Maslanka. That recording was part of the CBDNA showcase in 2019. Meanwhile, the group has been invited to perform at MMEA three times in the past six years. This year’s performance in Minneapolis will be their first live appearance since 2017, however. In early 2021, lingering COVID-19 protocols forced them to play virtually. And one of the reasons the recording of Two-Lane Blacktop is significant is because it was part of the wind ensemble’s first in-person concert with a live audience in more than 18 months. As it was the musicians wore masks with slits and bell covers for their instruments. But the chance to hear applause created an exhilaration that comes through in the music.
“JZ is always telling us to be intentional, be adaptable and be exceptional,” said Erin Kammueller, a senior from St. Paul, an English and Hispanic Studies double major who finds a different avenue for creativity through playing the flute and piccolo. “With the block scheduling we had during COVID, I think wind ensemble was the only thing that kept me sane. We might be a smaller program, but we’re tighter knit than you would find at a big school. And so many people are participating, not because they’re music majors but just because they love music. I think there’s a bright future here for people like that.”
Anna Stocker, who joined the wind ensemble as a horn player in January 2022 after participating in Symphonic Band, is a music major. And sometimes she can’t believe her ears.
“I’m really impressed with everyone’s focus and talent,” said Stocker, a junior from Jordan, Minnesota, who came to CSB as a math education major but decided music was too important. “I think for students who don’t have any music in their schedules, this is a creative outlet that’s different from what you’re studying in other classes. This is a community where everyone cares, and that comes through in what we play.”
If you don’t catch them Monday, the wind ensemble – which will go on a spring break tour of Minnesota – also will perform at 7:30 p.m. May 3 in Escher Auditorium.
The 2022-23 CSB and SJU Wind Ensemble paused in September for a group photo.